Last time I saw Edmund White, Gore Vidal was very much alive.
“I’ll be gone soon. Then Edmund White can be king,” Vidal told Jay Parini, not long before he died in 2012.
Yesterday, Edmund White read from his newest memoir, Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris, at City Lights Bookstore in North Beach. Exactly two years ago, I heard him read in the same exact location, so it’s fair to say that an Edmund White reading at City Lights has become my best-held ritual since moving to San Francisco. On both occasions I was fashionably on time and had to take a seat in the rickety steps leading up to the intimate reading room the size of some walk-in closets.
“You know, you’d probably get a bigger advance if you released your books right before Christmas,” I said to him after the reading. It’s perplexing to learn that even gay literary icons still live paycheck to paycheck. But it also makes White relatable: an undisciplined man who writes for money, admits to the allure of cyber cruising and has the balls to say matter of fact that some gay men are hypocrites.
“We never aspired to get married,” White said at the event after being questioned about the recent attention around same-sex marriage. “We took after the Bohemians, they didn’t want to get married either, even the straight ones.”
Although unmarried, White was not unaccompanied at City Lights.
“My partner (a fellow writer) gets exhausted by my social life,” he said, quickly glancing in the direction of a gentleman sitting near the poetry section. Speaking of poetry, here’s a photo of a man reading an Edmund White novella in the bathtub. Don’t you just love the internet?
Back to my story… So despite the familiarity that White exudes, especially when his voice falls soft like a blanket right before the last syllable, he is a proud self-proclaimed social climber. In the short passage he read from Inside a Pearl, he managed to effortlessly introduce Paloma Picasso, William S. Burroughs and Valentino.
In a way, his literary memoirs can be read not only as a retelling of a certain society but as a field guide for all once and future kings.
Can you really blame someone for trying to follow in the footsteps of a man who in his 70s can Tweet something like this?
i wrote a short piece in the guardian on line about bad sex
— Edmund White (@thenuttyprofess) December 7, 2012
Long live Edmund White.